Two competitive fixtures later, and the World Cup heroics of Captain Morgan’s England are all but forgotten.
That’s how some of the headlines have been written following our defeat in the opening game of this summer’s Ashes, but let’s not get too carried away. There are four more Test matches, and four more opportunities for us to turn the Aussies over.
If we’re being honest, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that we’ve struggled in this one. We were playing with ten men for all but the entirety of the game, which certainly didn’t do much to aid our efforts in removing a certain fidgety number four.
Anyone looking solely at the margin of defeat could be forgiven for getting sucked into the negativity spouted off by certain publications. As always, though, it is essential to look not just at the final score, but at the ebbs and flows of a generally even Test match.
Crucially, we must examine the varied fortunes of two of the series’ biggest names: Steve Smith and James Anderson. The former played two of the best innings one could hope to see in Test cricket, while the latter was conspicuous by his absence. Obviously, Smith’s efforts turned the game completely on its head, but it is hard not to wonder what might have been had Anderson (and a fresher Broad, Woakes, and Stokes) had a bit of time to work him over.
Smith is undoubtedly Australia’s greatest asset. He has looked extremely comfortable so far, and it is hard to know what England should do to disrupt his seemingly unbreakable rhythm. They will, however, be forced into changes at Lord’s; Archer is expected to replace Anderson, while Leach and Sam Curran have also been included in the squad with Moeen Ali dropping out. All new inclusions are good options – at the very least, they will provide support for Broad and Woakes, both of whom will have felt the absence of Anderson more than most.
We’re not ones to dwell for too long on negatives here. With that in mind, let’s look at the performances of three England players who should take plenty of heart from their efforts: Rory Burns, Stuart Broad, and Chris Woakes.
Beginning with the Surrey opener, he looked more assured than he ever has in an England shirt. Despite plenty of criticism in the aftermath of the Ireland Test, Burns came out and delivered the innings every England fan has been crying out for since Alastair Cook’s last vintage performance. He made the bowlers bowl to his strengths, picked up runs where he could, and (most importantly) occupied the crease. Provided he can replicate that sort of rhythm and adopt the same approach over the next month or so, he can expect to add significantly to his tally of Ashes runs.
The other two names on our list, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes, should come as no surprise. Despite his record, however, a few were questioning the former’s inclusion at Edgbaston following … well, we’re not really sure. Incredibly, it still seems that Broad is an underrated bowler. His first-innings display, in particular, served as a timely reminder of his enduring qualities and should reassure the English public that he can take up Jimmy Anderson’s mantle as leader of the attack. He likes playing against Australia, and will expect to add to his wickets tally during every game this summer. Broad has bowled the Aussies out on numerous occasions, and you’d think he might do it a couple more times before the summer’s out.
Woakesy is Woakesy, and he will be just as comfortable at Lord’s as he was at his home ground (if not more so – his record in St. John’s Wood is phenomenal). He looked extremely organised with the bat, and you know what you’re going to get from him with the ball. Considering he was asked to step up at the last minute to act as England’s swing king, he enjoyed a decent outing. It is also worth mentioning that he got Smith to drive and nick one, which undoubtedly represents a handy feather in his cap. More of the same, please!
During this momentous year for English cricket, we must all play our part in keeping cricket fever alive. If we buy into the rhetoric that the Aussies are better equipped to retain the Ashes, the general public will swiftly lose interest. We must, instead, encourage and stay enthusiastic in true Barmy Army fashion.
Have faith, and keep up your fantastic support. Do not give the doom mongers and pessimists the gratification they crave; instead, look ahead to Lord’s with the positives in the forefront of your minds. The atmosphere at Edbaston was electric for large portions of the game, and it is essential that we maintain those levels throughout the rest of the series.